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jadedctrl OP wrote

The obvious point: the anti-communism argument is no better (and no worse) than the anti-capitalism argument. Of course, the anti-communists are not going to agree that capitalism should be rejected. But unfortunately for them, the historical point is true: the US, the UK and other Western countries are based on a capitalist ideology, and have done many horrible things. The only way to deny the argument is by denying the general premise. But this is exactly the premise used in their own argument, so the anti-communism argument collapses.

To avoid this problem, they might try a different general premise:

General premise: if any country based on a particular ideology did horrible things, and if those horrible things are natural conclusions of the ideology, then that ideology should be rejected.

If this is the idea, however, they will need to revise the historical point as well, or otherwise the argument would no longer be valid. So we would have this:

Historical point: countries based on a communist ideology did many horrible things, and these things are natural conclusions of communism.

General premise: if any country based on a particular ideology did horrible things, and if those horrible things are natural conclusions of the ideology, then that ideology should be rejected.

Political conclusion: communism should be rejected.

But now there is an analogous argument against capitalism:

Historical point: the US and the UK were based on a capitalist ideology, they did many horrible things, and these things are natural conclusions of capitalism.

General premise: if any country based on a particular ideology did horrible things, and if those horrible things are natural conclusions of the ideology, then that ideology should be rejected.

Conclusion: capitalism should be rejected.

Both arguments are valid, and the shared general premise is plausible. The defender of capitalism might protest that the historical point is not true: nobody should think that a belief in free markets naturally entails that internment camps or slavery are okay; such things are a perversion of the ideals of any reasonable capitalism.

Members of Ukrainian paramilitary groups that fought with the Nazis against the Red Army are now heroes

Fair enough. We will grant for the sake of argument that slavery and the rest do not follow from the principles of Adam Smith and David Ricardo. But the historical point in the anti-communism argument is equally dubious. Where, for example, in the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels does one find that leaders should deliberately induce mass starvation or purges?

By contrast with both capitalism and communism, many of the most grotesque crimes of Nazism were natural conclusions of their racist ideology. Nazi doctrine elevated German Aryans above all other races, particularly Jews. The Second World War was an outcome of the Nazi ideal of Lebensraum, and the Holocaust a direct application of Nazi racial doctrines. The revised general premise does lead from historical facts about the crimes of Nazism to the uncontested conclusion that Nazism should be rejected.

So far, we have been labouring to make what is – to those trained in logic at least – an obvious point: the rhetoric of the anti-communists does not amount to a successful argument. We therefore should consider the possibility that the anti-communists are not trying to make an argument; perhaps they are not trying to give reasons. Maybe they are simply appealing to emotion, hoping that the ‘pitchfork effect’ will make it easy for them to render communism all bad all the time. But why? And why now?

Here it is especially important to pay heed to lessons from eastern Europe. In that context, public commemoration of the victims of communism has served both to allay rising criticisms of capitalism and to exonerate local histories of Right-wing nationalism. By law, members of Ukrainian paramilitary groups that fought with the Nazis against the Red Army in the Second World War are now heroes of Ukrainian independence. Might renewed anti-communist feeling also serve right-wing nationalism in the US and western Europe?

When Trump attributed blame to ‘both sides’ for the Charlottesville violence in August 2017, many Americans baulked at the idea that ordinary people protesting white supremacy be designated the moral equivalent of neo-Nazis. But this was no accident on Trump’s part. Right-wing nationalists have a good reason to construct a looming godless bogeyman threatening to take away our freedoms. A similar rhetoric can be found in Germany where the government has recently begun to equate the far-Right hooliganism of the neo-Nazis with the increasingly powerful Antifa movement, shutting down the website responsible for organising the massive G20 protests in August 2017, and attempting to silence what they called ‘vicious Left-wing extremists in Germany’.

Defenders of the status quo stop at nothing to convince young voters about the evils of collectivist ideas

Conservative and nationalist political leaders in the US and across Europe already incite fear with tales of the twin monsters of Islamic fundamentalism and illegal immigration. But not everyone believes that immigration is a terrible threat, and most Right-wing conservatives don’t think that Western countries are at risk of becoming theocratic states under Sharia law. Communism, on the other hand, provides the perfect new (old) enemy. If your main policy agenda is shoring up free-market capitalism, protecting the wealth of the superrich and dismantling what little is left of social safety nets, then it is useful to paint those who envision more redistributive politics as wild-eyed Marxists bent on the destruction of Western civilisation.

What better time to resurrect the spectre of communism? As youth across the world become increasingly disenchanted with the savage inequalities of capitalism, defenders of the status quo will stop at nothing to convince younger voters about the evils of collectivist ideas. They will rewrite history textbooks, build memorials, and declare days of commemoration for the victims of communism – all to ensure that calls for social justice or redistribution are forever equated with forced labour camps and famine.

Responsible and rational citizens need to be critical of simplistic historical narratives that rely on the pitchfork effect to demonise anyone on the Left. We should all embrace Geertz’s idea of an anti-anti-communism in hopes that critical engagement with the lessons of the 20th century might help us to find a new path that navigates between, or rises above, the many crimes of both communism and capitalism.

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